From SoapBoxCincinatti: She Blinded Me with Science (Fiction)
Christy Johnson, chair of Millennicon, the Tri-State’s oldest science fiction convention, talks to Soapbox about what it’s like to run a large-scale convention and geek out with sci-fi authors, and why sci-fi isn’t a “guy thing.”
Tell us about the origins of the convention.
Millennicon started out as a group of friends that wanted to hold a science fiction convention. They wanted to have an opportunity to meet with friends and enjoy all things convention related. Now we are in our 26th year and going strong!
How and why did you get involved?
My husband is a huge science fiction fan. He had gone to several conventions, including Millennicon. When we got married, I gave Millennicon a try and found out that I loved it. After a few years, I volunteered to help out at registration, was in charge of it the next and found myself chairperson the year after that. I have been attending Millennicon for almost 20 years now. I started as just an attendee and worked my way up. I have been active on the con-committee for 15 years, 13 as con-chair.
What does the convention represent in the community at large?
The convention is an opportunity to meet other like-minded people that are interested in science fiction, anime, science, fantasy, art, etc. It’s a great way of meeting the authors and getting to know them. Not just local authors but from all over the country and Canada. And many of our guests of honor have won numerous awards and are known all over the world.
How would you describe the types of people Millennicon attracts?
Millennicon is a family- friendly convention that has something for everyone, from the serious science fiction fan to those that just may be interested in the science topics and masquerade. We attract from all walks of life from the students, professionals, rocket scientists (professional and weekend), avid readers of all ages and up-and-coming authors.
Most people have this idea that science fiction is a "guy thing." How does the convention combat this idea?
The notation that science fiction is a “guy thing” hasn't really been valid since the mid-1970s. With the popularity of science fiction television shows and movies like Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, women have always been interested in the genre. Millennicon also showcases some fantasy topics, and both men and women enjoy coming to the convention.
Do you have to go out of your way to attract more women?
No, not really. It is a nice mix of about 50/50 of men and women. What we try to do is attract those families where one spouse may be into science fiction, but we want to have programming for the non-interested spouse and children so that they will enjoy Millennicon, too.
Tell us about the charity the convention raises money for.
Millennicon is the major fundraiser for the Miami Valley Fandom for Literacy (MVFL). It was created in 1995 and was formed to fight both declining literacy and science achievements in the United States. MVFL is a non-profit public charity with 501(c)3 status. The main purpose is to promote the sciences, math and space sciences through the literature of science fiction and fantasy. We donate books and funds to various other non-profit organizations to support these goals.??This year, the convention is also raising money for the Lions Club. We will be collecting used glasses in good shape and auction a basket of goodies for their cause.
Were you always into sci-fi? I always enjoyed watching Star Trek on TV when I was younger. I’m an avid reader and love reading all sorts of books on different topics. I love the science fiction community and those that attend conventions as I feel we have a lot in common. Con-goers are usually well read, love movies of all kinds and have wonderful senses of humor. Before I got married, I still enjoyed reading some science fiction and fantasy.
What does sci-fi represent for you as a reader/viewer/consumer that other genres don't?
The Millennicon con-com (convention committee) as a whole have a variety of interests. We come together for Millennicon because we all enjoy what science fiction has to offer – science-based themes along with fantasy and through many other avenues such as astrology, innovations, technology, astronomy, art, music, and the like.
For example, our con-com has been made up of volunteers that have been teachers, scientists, lawyers, doctors, writers, business people, engineers, artists, systems engineers, computer specialists, students – and avid readers from all walks of life. This is a good representation of the sort of people that attend Millennicon.
Tell me about this year's convention. What's new/different?
As usual, we will have an art show filled with unique pieces that you can purchase, a dealer's room filled with not only books, but costumes, collectibles and all things fannish. Friday night is our dance. Saturday morning will be our charity auction with tons of stuff to bid on. We not only have a masquerade contest, but afterwards there’s a karaoke get-together for all to enjoy. All through the con, there will be things happening in our gaming room and late-night anime.
We have lots of diverse and interesting science and media panels. There will be art demos, makeup demos and concerts. Many folks are interested in steampunk panels so the convention should be very exciting. We’re also offering a well-rounded track for the younger fan. Our children's programming has been praised on many levels. We try to start our youth on the right track to fall in love with not only reading, but their curiosity for science and technology.
How has the convention changed over the years?
Well, not very much. Millennicon has always prided itself on being able to focus on the literary aspects of science fiction, highlighting the written word versus popular media representation of science fiction and fantasy. Our goal has always been to be a family friendly convention – something for everyone is what we strive for.
What did you change about the convention when you took over as chairperson?
My main strength was to delegate responsibilities while focusing on the strengths of my committee members. I have been able to utilize my organization skills to the benefit the convention as a whole. My proudest accomplishment is our registration process, which I am proud to say, gets more compliments about how organized and speedy our process is as opposed to other conventions that they have attended.
I also started doing surveys during the convention to gauge how well are doing, which has given us invaluable feedback from our con-goers. I also try to maintain a presence through the convention and talk with as many people as I can. This keeps me in touch with what we are doing right and what we can improve on.
Details: Millennicon 26 is March 16-18 at the Holiday Inn near I-275 in Sharonville. It’s $40 at the door for the weekend, $15 for Friday or Sunday only, and $25 for Saturday only. For more information, visit http://www.millennicon.org.